Saturday, June 27, 2009

Google Voice Invites Begin Trickling Out

Google Voice, which was relaunched in March from the "ashes" of GrandCentral, has remained closed to non-GrandCentral users since then. On Thursday, Google announced it was again beginning to give out invitations to the still-not-fully-public service.

Since Google had gone months since adding any new users, you can see that there is probably quite a backlog of requests for entry queued up. In their blog post announcing the move, Google said:

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Facebook Tightens Privacy Controls

A beta version of Facebook's publisher gives users more control over who can see their content. The move is meant to improve security and privacy on the social networking site.

Facebook is testing out granular privacy controls for its users that will allow them to exercise more control over who sees published content.

Just recently, Facebook made a beta version of its publisher available to some of its users that allows them to configure the settings for who can view their information. The new capabilities allow users to configure settings to display certain content to just their confirmed friends, their friends and members of networks they belong to, "Friends of Friends" or everyone.

The new settings are an attempt by Facebook to improve privacy and increase security, and to address complaints by users that they could not control who could see their status updates.

You may have some posts you want to share with a wide audience, such as whom you voted for or how great the weather is today," blogged Facebook engineer Olaoluwa Okelola. "Other times you may have more personal updates like your new phone number or an invitation to join you at your favorite restaurant for dinner that are meant for only close or nearby friends."

Forrester Research analyst Chenxi Wang agreed that the settings add a needed level of privacy for the average user.

"I've got personal friends on Facebook and also business associates," Wang said. "These days I give a talk at a conference and afterwards I'd get three or four Facebook friend requests from audience members, people I don't really know. I'd very much like a private profile and a public profile to differentiate between inner circles and other, more loosely connected, individuals. And this new settings would allow me to do that, which is great."

When it comes to enterprise IT security, the new privacy controls may not do much to assuage concerns about social networking by employees. However, limiting the amount of public information out there may make the social engineering aspect of phishing trickier for attackers.

"From an enterprise's standpoint, one potential implication is that since there will be less private information out there, phishing attacks via Facebook will be more difficult," she said. "That's good news for enterprises. But on the flip side, it's more difficult for HR folks to do Facebook background checks, which is a downside."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Opera Unite: A New Way to Share

Opera is stepping up efforts to grab share of the Web browser market. To do that, the tiny Norwegian company released a version of its software that's designed to give users more control over the information they upload and share via the Web.

The way things work now, much of the information sent over the Web, from photos saved on Facebook to chats via instant-message software, is handled by servers run by big companies, typically outside the average user's control.
The Next Step in Cloud Computing

Opera Unite, part of the June 16 release of the Opera 10 browser, aims to change that by letting registered users make the contents of their hard drive accessible to friends and colleagues anywhere in the world, and host activities like chatting and message boards directly from their computers, instead of via servers owned by providers of commercial Web services. Peer-to-peer companies like Napster have in the past also let users share files directly from their hard drives, but Opera's product expands the range of files users can publish.

Opera (OPERA.OL) says the new feature will be useful for Internet users who are uncomfortable sharing their files and interacting with friends over privately owned Web sites, which set their own rules for privacy, and can't always be counted on to store files permanently. "If you upload your photos to a site that is owned by someone, you're basically uploading your life—and you might be giving away certain rights," says Christen Krogh, Opera's chief development officer. Opera Unite lets users set passwords for access to selected files on their computers. Additionally, Krogh says Opera Unite helps users save time they would otherwise spend uploading files to the Web or sending them in an e-mail.

In a trend known as cloud computing, individuals and companies increasingly are shifting computing tasks, including storage of sensitive data, to servers maintained by outside companies such as Google (GOOG), Facebook, Amazon (AMZN), and Microsoft (MSFT).

Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner contends that computer-to-computer transactions like the ones Opera Unite encourages are simply the next step in cloud computing. "We are actually making the cloud a lot bigger" by adding more, dispersed connections across the Web, von Tetzchner says.

The new Opera 10 release includes six applications that take advantage of the added sharing capability: file sharing, a virtual message board called the "fridge," a media player for streaming songs to other computers; photo-sharing; a chat room called "the lounge," and a server for hosting your own Web site.
Bringing Unite to Mobile

Opera is a relatively small player in the tussle for share of the Web browser market. "While all browsers want to ensure that they have the same features in order to have parity, they need to differentiate themselves in some way," says Sheri McLeish, an analyst at Forrester Research (FORR). Microsoft is the largest, though its Internet Explorer has lost ground by about 7 percentage points over the past year. It held about 66% in May, according to researcher Net Applications. Mozilla's Firefox had 22.5% and Apple's (AAPL) Safari held 8.4%. Since its launch in September, Google Chrome has eked out almost 2% of the market; Opera remains below 1%.

Opera may be a laggard in Web browsing, but in mobile it's king. This month, the mobile version of Opera—used on phones running Nokia's Symbian operating system and Windows Mobile, and Nintendo's (7974.T) DS gaming handheld—claimed more than 24% of the mobile browser market, surpassing the use of Safari on iPhones, according to data aggregator StatCounter.

The company is dropping hints that Opera Unite could eventually be optimized for mobile phones. "This is starting off on the PC side, but I think you can see how this can be used in all kinds of devices as well," says von Tetzchner. Such a service might mimic the type of mobile applications currently offered by companies like Evernote and SugarSync, which provide users with on-the-go access to documents stored on their home computers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

10 Important Points For : Personalized Facebook URLs

Ladies and gentlemen, get on your marks: The race to grab your very own Facebook URL is about to begin. Facebook will allow users to register custom usernames for the first time starting at 12:01 a.m. EDT Saturday. The usernames are bound to go fast, and if you aren't prepared, you may end up empty-handed -- or, worse yet, with a number-happy AOL-style name (think "JSmithLOLz313451").

Here, then, are 10 things you need to know before the floodgates open.

1. Facebook's usernames will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you're dying to get "johnhenderson," you'd better not go to bed early. Facebook will start handing out usernames at precisely 12:01 a.m. EDT. Odds are, most common names will be gone by 12:02.

Personalized Facebook URLs: 10 Important Points

2. Once you pick a name, it's yours for life.

Each Facebook account gets only one username, and you can never change it. You can't transfer it to someone else, either. Even if you delete your Facebook account, Facebook says the name won't go back into the pool.

3. You don't necessarily have to use your real name.

While Facebook is encouraging the use of real names, you aren't limited in that regard. The system will suggest a few available options based on your first and/or last name, but it'll also provide a blank field in which you can type something completely unrelated.

4. You won't be able to get a 'generic word' as your username.

Hoping to snag Don't count on it. Facebook says "generic words" won't be available for usernames. A full list of included terms hasn't been released, but "pizza" and "flowers" were given as examples of what won't fly.

5. You'll have to use at least five characters.

The Facebook usernames will have to be at least five characters in length and can only contain letters, numbers, and a period. Trying names with special characters -- you know, symbols like $#@% -- will only waste your time.

6. If you created your Facebook account after 3 p.m. on June 9, you won't be able to get a username yet.

Facebook is only letting users who had accounts prior to 3 p.m. on June 9 register for usernames this week. The social network says it's a precaution to help prevent people from creating accounts just for "name squatting" purposes. If you registered your Facebook account after that time, you'll have to wait till June 28 at 12:01 a.m. to get your new name.

7. The restrictions are even greater for Facebook Pages (public profiles).

Owners of Facebook Pages -- public profiles for companies, organizations, or public figures -- must have been registered before May 31 in order to be eligible for a custom URL. Additionally, the Facebook Page must have had at least 1,000 fans as of May 31 in order to get a username now.

8. Facebook does plan to protect trademarks.

Facebook says it'll work to protect intellectual property and trademark rights. You can report rights violations here.

9. Your current privacy settings will apply to your new URL.

Your new Facebook username will immediately become your new URL (e.g. Depending on your privacy settings, though, people may not be able to see much there. Whatever settings you currently have on your account will apply, so if your profile is set to be private, it'll remain private -- even on the new address.

10. Your Facebook username may be used for more things in the future.

As of now, the Facebook usernames will be used for custom URLs. In the future, however, the company has said it plans to unveil other uses for the names. Specifics have yet to be revealed, but know that whatever name you pick will likely pop up in even more places down the road.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Now Facebook to offer personalized Web addresses

SAN FRANCISCO — Like concert goers lining up for a coveted ticket, Facebook users are queuing up to claim their digital turf.

Late Friday and early Saturday, the world's largest social-networking site was to begin offering its 200 million users the chance to claim a personalized Web address on a first-come, first-served basis.

The move will allow them to create a distinct online address for their personal profile with a name of their choosing, such as It would also let them use their Facebook page like a personal home page, as a vast majority of members of rival MySpace already do.

The late-night change (12:01 a.m. Saturday ET) had some anxious Facebook members changing their Friday night plans to grab their name before someone else did.

"As a sole proprietor, it is very important to me," says Scott Roewer, a professional organizer in Washington, D.C., who uses Facebook and Twitter to promote his business. "I have no choice but to sign up at midnight."

FIND MORE STORIES IN: MySpace | Facebook | Twitter

Facebook member Bryan Christmas, 27, wanted to be sure he had Internet access at 9:01 p.m. in San Francisco, altering his weekend plans for a few precious minutes.

The intent of so-called "vanity URLs" is to make it easier to find profiles through Web searches, says Facebook. Currently, Facebook profiles contain a sequence of numbers.

But the change could lead to a virtual land grab. Once someone snags a name, for example, no one else can use it. And after that name is confirmed, it cannot be changed.

The lure of "vanity URLs" might lead, in some cases, to courtroom disputes over trademark rights, say legal experts.

One possible scenario is a third-party improperly registering the name of a celebrity or brand name.

"It could be a quagmire," says Howard Weller, a trademark attorney in New York who represents celebrities. "We could have another case of cybersquatting," when squatters claimed domain names during the early years of the Internet in an attempt to sell them at a profit.

Last week, baseball manager Tony La Russa sued social-networking site Twitter, claiming an authorized profile used his name.

Facebook says it has taken steps to prevent cybersquatting. Tens of thousands of names have been restricted, including those of well-known companies and brand terms, celebrities, politicians and profanity.

In addition, for several days Facebook members were also able to submit requests for terms they didn't want used, spokesman Larry Yu says.

Facebook users won't be able to transfer their names to others, and Facebook will only allow users to claim a name if they had an account before the feature was announced June 9. That restriction lifts June 28.

Facebook says it's unclear how many people will sign up. It has, however, taken steps to ensure the site's service isn't adversely affected, Yu says.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Tool Helps Twitter Users Manage Interactions

If Twitter is going to be a long-term tool for social networking, it's going to need to evolve -- quickly -- because many users are already abandoning their accounts, according to a research scientist from Purewire, a Web security applications developer.

"It's fairly well known that some characteristics of social networking tools become a graveyard [of dormant users]," said Steve Webb. "People get excited about them but that excitement dies very quickly. That effect shows up in Twitter."

In fact, that trend seems to be happening at a faster rate than other popular social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, Webb said.

"The main difference between Twitter and Facebook is Twitter is a lot more work. With Facebook, you have friends in the real world and you can say, 'Let's find these friends' with bi-directional links. On Twitter, you can find friends, but it's not the same bi-directional linking."

Purewire conducted research that found that 40 percent of Twitter users have not tweeted since their first day on Twitter. In addition, approximately 25 percent of Twitter users are not following anyone and about two-thirds of users are following fewer than 10 people.

With Twitter, it's difficult for new people to break into well-established circles, Webb said. "If you look at the most popular [subject for] tweets, it's about trying to figure out Twitter or learn Twitter. Twitter is a simple concept, but it's difficult for the average person to figure out what to do with it. There's not a lot of rich content coming out of it. If you don't have a lot of people following you, there's no reason to continue to post updates," Webb said.

In addition, while Twitter has become a medium for receiving information, it's lagged behind other tools as a way to interact with others, according to Webb. Purewire found that 80 percent of users have fewer than 10 tweets and 80 percent of Twitter users have fewer than 10 followers.

"It's a very powerful medium to get a message out to people from big, social media moguls. From that standpoint, I don't foresee that going away. Massive groups will keep seeing new pictures that Ashton [Kutcher] is putting up or what Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] is doing in the off-season," Webb said. "But if they want a longer shelf life, they need to appeal to people that need something to do. Just showing up and typing a few messages about people who don't care what you're saying doesn't help. I expect them to come up with something."

As a means to improve Twitter usage, Purewire this week launched TweetGrade, a tool that grades Twitter users based on their usage and reputation. It allows users to better determine whom they should be interacting with, Webb said. "It's like a credit bureau for Twitter. It's at least some data point to take and go from there," he said.

Eventually, Purewire plans to integrate TweetGrade into its Purewire Trust service, which offers security and authentication across multiple social networking tools, Webb said. "We try to establish who can you trust? Will this person give you a malicious link or send some malicious data in the feed? That's our primary responsibility," he said.

For example, Purewire notes the "Best Video" scam that recently attacked Twitter users by directing followers to a video wanting viewers to purchase rogue antivirus software.

TweetGrade is Purewire's "contribution to the community at large," according to Webb. It's a free tool, as the company drives its primary revenue through enterprise analytics applications, he said.

"It's difficult to associate trust and your reputation to online personas. You can get a new friend request, but it's difficult to know whether you can trust that person or have a relationship with that person. We give one good data feed to who is trustworthy, who is not. If they get an F, you may not be as interested in interacting than if they had an A or A+," Webb said.

Facebook vanity URLs coming this weekend

(Credit: Facebook)

Facebook's 200-plus million members will be able to customize the URLs to their profiles starting at midnight Eastern on Saturday, according to a post on the Facebook blog. Currently, users' profile URLs have been structured as a string of numbers. At least for now, it doesn't look like the switch is mandatory.

This is a move that will help Facebook profiles get better traction in search engines, potentially upping traffic--and give people-search sites a run for their money in the process. For brands whose "fan pages" are a crucial part of Facebook's marketing and advertising strategy, it'll make their pages easier for people to access without needing to click around much.

But there's fine print! "Think carefully about the user name you choose. Once it's been selected, you won't be able to change or transfer it," the post by Facebook's Blaise DiPersia read. "If you signed up for a Facebook Page after May 31 or a user profile after today at 3 p.m. EDT, you may not be able to sign up for a user name immediately because of steps we've taken to prevent abuse or 'squatting' on names."

There's something significant here: not being able to change or transfer your Facebook name means that it's less likely there will be a big market for them on eBay, Craigslist, or elsewhere, something that could easily get out of hand otherwise.

Also: "We expect to offer even more ways to use your Facebook user name in the future," DiPersia wrote. Presumably, this means that you'll be able to use it for Facebook Connect log-ins on external sites, rather than your e-mail address.